The Jamestown ND Post Office is a big and beautiful old building. When I was in school, the post office took the main floor, the court rooms were upstairs. I never got upstairs, but driving past the post office these days brings up some pleasant memories. Maybe not quite pleasant, because the ones I’m thinking of today are of some stressful times.
Do you remember my story about taking lessons from the National Radio Institute to learn television repair? That involved a few dealings with the mail man. Money must have been important to me then, because that story and the next few stories all involve schemes to make money. Those damned ads in the back of comic books drew me in. One involved selling advertising trinkets to local merchants. Reading the ad made the process look so easy. Every little business needs to advertise, and these little matchbooks would sell themselves. That and a nickel would buy a cup of coffee at White Drug in downtown Jamestown. Not that an eleven year old kid drank much coffee. What did I know?
Undeterred, I picked up the little package at the post office and started my career in advertising. The kit included several sample matchbook covers and a catalog of other things business owners could use to increase their business. The package didn’t include the more expensive items, like coffee cups or pencils. I decided to specialize in matchbook covers. Everyone smoked in those days, so that would be an easy sell, eh?
I have a picture perfect memory of the day I walked into a gas station in Jamestown. It was the place across the street from Ernie Gates’ house. It was close to home, but far enough away that I’d never have to go there again if the sale didn’t work. I gave my spiel to the guy in the office.
Or, should I say, I tried. My oratorical skills didn’t match those of any presidential candidate. The dude at the station, probably just a high school kid, had no interest in my matchbooks. He had gas to pump, spark plugs to change, and buddies to drink coffee with. He cut me off in mid speech and dispatched me quickly. So much for my advertising career.
Maybe I needed to change my perspective a little. Back to the little ads in the comic books. The next one offered the incredible opportunity to get involved in the lucrative import business. Manufacturers in Japan had loads of useful trinkets that could be had for pennies on the dollar. That was a better deal than matchbooks! If I didn’t sell the trinkets, maybe there would be a good toy for me! This come-on involved sending in a couple of dollars for the package of samples and lessons on how to become an expert importer.
The package came and I quickly read everything about importing. This was nothing like I imagined. I just wanted a little catalog of trinkets, kind of like the stuff that Edmunds Scientific sold in the comic book adverts. No such luck. They wanted to teach me how to contact manufacturers in Japan, how to negotiate prices for large lots of cheaply made junk. That process, the lack of a catalog, and the junky samples included in the education kit convinced me to pack it all up and return it to the sender.
That’s where the post office comes in. I was not a happy camper, so didn’t do a very good job of wrapping the materials for return. The clerk behind the desk at the post office almost didn’t accept the package for shipment. We had a brief discussion about what could happen to poorly packaged goods, but he didn’t convince me. I just wanted to get rid of the evidence.
You’d think that after three strikes I’d be out. Undeterred, I went on to become an outstanding greeting card salesman. Everyone needs Christmas cards, right? And birthday cards, sympathy cards and all the rest. Hallmark stores didn’t exist in North Dakota in the early sixties, so the market was ripe for this little entrepreneur. I dutifully sent my name and address to the company in the comic book ad and they sent me a box of sample cards and a scrapbook-like affair highlighting all the wonderful greeting cards that practically sold themselves. I can do this!
This was much easier. My mother needed greeting cards. My grand mother needed some, too. Even the nice woman next door wanted a couple of boxes. This was easy! It’s all in who your target audience is. I sold those greeting cards for several years.
The most memorable story about a package from the post office involved my mother. It was the spring of 1969. At the last-minute I thought it would be cool to have a Nehru jacket to wear to Cathy’s senior prom. Cathy thought it would be fun to go with a well dressed fashionable college man. Being a teenager, I made the unreasonable request to my mother. “Can you make a jacket for me? Yes? Wonderful! I need it this weekend.”
She sewed the jacket and got it into the mail quickly. To make sure it arrived in time she sent it Special Delivery. Special Delivery was a service offered by the post office, sort of similar to the overnight delivery services available today. Except it was slow. The only thing special was the trip from the local post office to the house. The package rode on the train with all the other mail. The “special” part came when the package arrived at the post office. A delivery person hopped into a little truck and would drive the package to the destination immediately, not waiting for the regular route delivery.
The package didn’t arrive in time for the Friday evening high school dance. I even made a special trip to the post office Friday afternoon to investigate. Nothing. Talk about disappointment. I had to take Cathy to the Jamestown big dance dressed in the same old sport coat. Boring!
Fortunately, the package showed up first thing Saturday morning. As a testament to my mother’s sewing skills, the jacket fit perfectly. The fabric was a gorgeous orange, almost glow-in-the-dark orange. Talk about a fashion statement! We hopped into the car and drove to Fargo for the big NDSU spring dance.
The Friday evening event in Jamestown had been a lot of fun. A familiar place, a band we knew, and lots of friends to talk to and dance with. It was great. The event in Fargo was a completely different story. My only experience in the field house had been with ROTC. Not especially pleasant. The band wasn’t that good (in our opinion), and we knew absolutely nobody. Not being socially aware, it hadn’t occurred to me that only the Greeks and highfalutin people would be there. Certainly not the sophomore engineering students. The biggest disappointment: there was nobody to impress with my fancy jacket.